Version Reviewed – PC
Note: Since the time of writing, Runic have put a lot of effort into patching the technical issues I discuss in this article. As of 29/09/17, the frame rate drops mentioned below are no longer a problem. This edit has been included to make this clear, and the score has been subsequently altered.
Well throw a pot at my head and call me Navi! It’s The Legend of Zelda!
No, not really Crashers. But you could be forgiven for mistaking this luscious action adventure/puzzler for one of the Fairy Boy’s outings. There are plenty of similarities that fortunately for us are done with enough finesse that this doesn’t feel like a rip off at all, but a spiritual successor packed with its own sense of style and identity.
Hob is the latest and most visually impressive title to come from Runic Games to-date. The Torchlight developers have a solid history with their OGRE engine. Torchlight 2 was a great looking game, but it’s clear that they’ve tapped into something far more substantial and polished here with sharp detail, incredible depth and overall shininess.
Hob is a small blue eyed, hooded fellow that’s mysteriously freed from captivity by a large mechanical creature. After Hob follows this clanking chap for a few minutes, naively and excitedly exploring the initial green landscape, he unfortunately finds his arm infected by some sort of Ivan Ooze style purple goo that’s twisted itself into the land like an infectious poison. Robo-pal quickly recognises the graveness of the situation and in a somewhat contrasting fashion to the colourful, cartoon like setting that we’ve seen so far, hastily chops Hob’s arm off. Hob awakes with a newly attached Robo-Arm kindly donated by Robo-pal. Friends for Life, brah.
This tool, along with a trusty sword shaped like a key are your main combat tools throughout Hob. Both have up-gradable abilities through exploration and currency which is earned by defeating foes and locating hidden loot containers, and although combat may seem under-powered and clunky at first, it only takes a handful of upgrades to your weapons and robo-arm before you’ll be dodging, warping, hammerfisting and shielding yourself against enemies much larger and stronger than yourself. Runic have done a great job of making the combat choppy, brutal and satisfying. Most enemies have strengths and weaknesses; such as long reaching spears, shields or protective knee guards that must be dealt with before an effective attack can be made. This prevents the combat slipping into the usual hack n slash formula, and keeps you on your toes with punishing enemy attacks that will bring your health down to a minimum, or even kill you in single hits if you’re careless.
To be honest though, the combat is secondary to the real wow factor in this game, and that’s the landscape itself, or more specifically the dynamic way in which you interact with it. You’ll spend countless hours incidentally powering up generators, pushing buttons and pulling levers, and you won’t ever really know why or feel remotely bitter about it. How can this be? Because every time you do this, you’re rewarded with absolute aesthetic satisfaction. Segments of the landscape begin to shift and move into new positions. This was the greatest pleasure for me; to simply watch the mechanical world shift and re-configure itself. Some of the more significant transfigurations came with beautifully complex movements, offering you glimpses into the inner workings of the planet and the creatures that inhabit it as chunks of landscape lift into the air, rearrange and rotate before they fall perfectly and seamlessly into their new positions. Neither words nor pictures can do this justice. You’ll have to play to find out what I mean.
Runic are fully aware of how beautiful the world is that they’ve created, setting out many “sightseeing” locations throughout the game. These are specific spots where Hob can take a moment to lean against a wall, or sit down and look out onto the vast beautiful land surrounding him – a complex Rubix Cube of metallic cogs and natural splendor.
As you explore and meet the inhabitants, and delve from the green, floral surface into the bronze, steel and iron laced catacombs that hold it all together, it becomes clear that the world represents symbiosis between the mechanical and the natural. The mechanical creatures a-la Robo-pal that aid you on your way appear to be some sort of sentinels; maintainers and protectors of this world. You can see them tinkering away within the inner workings. You’re also aided by small fairy like sprites that seem much more child-like, naïve and in need of protection than their mechanical counterparts. It’s fair to say these represent the natural half of this symbiosis, and you’ll work alongside both of these species as you attempt to reconstruct and heal this mystical, suffering world.
Be warned, Hob operates a strict no hands held policy. There’s no dialogue nor written instruction to help uncover the story and secrets of the game, of which there are many. You’ll rely on interpreting your surroundings, and the physical guidance given by your friendly associates. Similarly to Zelda, your greatest rewards come from straying from the guided path, and having a willingness to explore and puzzle your way through the many alternative routes which can lead you to some delightfully charming locations.
“Your greatest rewards come from straying from the guided path, and having a willingness to explore and puzzle your way through the many alternative routes which can lead you to some delightfully charming locations.”
There were instances throughout the game that I found a few words of guidance might have saved me 15 minutes or so of pointless wandering, with small details leading to the game’s progression being easily missed for someone not keeping their eyes finely focused. However, ultimately any failure in this regard was my own, as that’s the standard of attention to detail that the game demands of the player, which I became acutely aware of after one or two missed opportunities and subsequent frustration. The sooner you match yourself to Hob’s expectations, the more effectively you will power through the game. In fact, it would be fair to say that ensuring that you remain aware of the small details at all times is as much a challenge as the puzzles themselves, which will be relatively familiar to the average action adventurer, and only mildly brain-hurty episodes.
Hob is somewhat let down by a few strange design decisions. You’re unable to change direction once you start jumping, leaving you no maneuverability if your jump isn’t perfectly on target which results in a lot of frustration when making jumps across small platforms, especially considering Hob will sometimes fail at grasping ledges for apparently no reason, which inevitably can start to raise the blood pressure. Furthermore, you die from irritatingly short heights, so most missed jumps aren’t too forgiving when they do occur. It doesn’t help that the camera is static, and can be inappropriately set for the jump you’re trying to make.
Unfortunately, I personally suffered some serious performance issues on the release version. Aside from some initial crashing which has been subsequently patched, I also suffered and continue to suffer consistent and harsh frame rate drops. These become more noticeable as I play the game, and although it doesn’t make it unplayable for the most part, there have been some times when I’ve gotten close to giving it the finger, particularly in one instance when in the middle of battle with two overpowered, well armoured giants. I’m running a GTX 1080, so this is clearly a case of poor optimisation on Runic’s part. Hopefully with some more patchwork we should see this kink ironed out. It’s a must.
“Runic have capitalised on everything their well utilised OGRE engine has to offer and created some landscapes that have left me in total awe. “
At the end of the day, Hob is beautiful through and through. Runic have capitalised on everything their well utilised OGRE engine has to offer and created some landscapes that have left me in utter awe. Arguably the story is more incidental than finely crafted, but it remains mysterious enough to never be a real problem. The game’s shortfalls were likely deliberate design features that haven’t quite worked as intended, but they’re not major issues once you grow used to them. The only real sticking point for me is with regards to the technical issues experienced. Runic need to implement a patch to help deal with this, as nothing pulls you out of the atmosphere like a stuttering frame rate jumping between 60 and 30. I’d recommend the game anyway, but if they can sort out this basic technical travesty, I’ll recommend it with two thumbs up and an erection. :O
Hob is available now on Steam and Playstation 4 for £14.99.
Check out the Launch trailer below!